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Howrah Town Hall crash

Calcutta, Jan. 4: The roof above the heads of those responsible for certifying the safety of all buildings in Howrah town came crashing down early this morning.

The 142-year-old Howrah Municipal Corporation building, which also houses the Town Hall, caved in at 4 am, a victim of the civic authorities’ negligence towards their own assets. Only the early hour of the incident saved people from getting killed or hurt.

Twelve hours ago, a hearing on the voters’ list was held in the Town Hall, which is on the first floor that was added later in 1884.

The “quick-to-act” authorities declared the structure condemned after it had collapsed, though officials who inspect the worthiness of buildings in the Howrah municipality area sit daily under the now-crashed roof.

Residents of the Howrah Maidan area said they had heard a big bang as the 2,500-sq-ft roof of the two-storied building came down, but no one knew, including the chowkidar who lives on the ground floor, what had happened until daylight broke.

“I was woken up by the huge noise,” said Birju, the elderly chowkidar. “I thought it was a road accident and ignored it. The night was very cold and I went back to sleep.” He noticed the collapse after getting up at 7. “I immediately rang up the mayor to inform him.”

“We had a providential escape,” said CPM legislator Padmanidhi Dhar, who is also chairperson of the United Central Refugee Council, which was to have held a meeting in the hall at 3 pm today.

Mayor Gopal Mukherjee said the municipality had planned to build a Rs 1.5-crore office complex by pulling down the building, declared a heritage structure in 2001. The project could not proceed because of its heritage status — after a roof collapse and condemned stamp, demolition should be easy.

The building has seen stalwarts like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, who was Howrah district magistrate, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay walk through its yawning portals at different times.

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